Ian Waugh discovers how well this program can create respectable sounds on the Archimedes
Acorn have endowed the Archimedes with the ability to play back sampled sounds. They may not be of high enough quality to impress Stock Aitken & Waterman, but you can do some respectable things with the right program - as Ian Waugh discovers
Electro Music Research, probably the most prolific music UK-based software house, has produced several programs for the Archimedes including a sample-creation program called SoundSynth (£49.95). The samples use the WFS (Waveform Filing System) protocol and can be used in any program which supports this including EMR's Studio 24 Plus.
RhythmBox, as you can probably guess from the name, is a drum-pattern creation program and, it too, uses the WFS. But it can do more than just create and play back drum patterns as we'll see.
The main screen consists of an 8 x 16 grid on which the drum patterns are constructed. It's similar, in principle, to the grid used by Roland drum machines such as the TR-505. In traditional drum machine style, to create a piece of music, you construct a number of single bars and then link them together to form a Song.
The maximum resolution of any bar is 16 beats. Each hit normally represents a semiquaver but you can adjust the length of each bar so it contains anything from one to 16 hits. Each bar can also be given its own tempo (ranging from 16 to 192), so if you want a greater resolution than 16 beats per bar you could use two bars at twice the tempo.
The Archimedes can hold up to 32 samples in memory at once and up to eight can play at the same time. Each bar can be allocated its own set of eight instruments to provide further variation within a song. The voices are selected from a voice list by clicking on the Voice icon.
Furthermore, each sample used in a bar can be given its own volume level and pan position. Flexibility indeed. Panning a roll around the kit across the stereo image, for example, is very effective.
But there's more. Each hit can also be given its own pitch so it's possible to play a tune on one rhythm line using just one sample. Bars can be transposed individually, too. The pitch is selected by clicking on an on-screen keyboard. There is a demo file on disc called, imaginatively, DemoSong which is an excellent example of this technique - very impressive indeed.
The program can store up to 128 bars and the contents of a bar can be copied to other bars. You can copy notes, voices, tempo, volume levels or everything.
Once you've created some bar patterns, click on Song to link them together. A song can contain up to 255 Parts. You can allocate one bar of the pattern to each part and construct your song in linear fashion but you can also use loops and repeat instructions.
A Loop sends the program back to a part a certain number of times. For example, entering 4-8 in the Loop section would loop the program back to part eight four times and then it would continue playing. You can start playback from any part by placing a Marker on it.
It would useful if you could try a bar in song mode before adding it to the song.
An interesting addition to song playback is Theatre mode. This plays one bar at a time and uses the space bar to move onto the next bar. It would allow, for example, a series of sound effects or short pieces of music to be cued and played when required for use in, as the name suggests, a play. It's an interesting idea.
The program can only hold one song in memory at a time but when it is saved, the name of the samples it uses is saved too. When it is loaded, the program tries to load the samples if they are not already resident so they must be on the same disc. New samples can be loaded into the 32-voice sample list at any time.
There's a useful clock on screen to show you that it's way past your bedtime and a help line at the bottom of the screen tells you what the functions do as you move the pointer over them. Very handy.
EMR has produced six Sample Library Discs (£9.95 each or £49.75 for all six) containing between 22 and 42 samples should you required more sounds.
There are only a few minor niggles. Although most of the options and parameters can be selected and changed with the mouse, one or two require numbers to be entered at the keyboard. Total mouse control would have been nice. I also wanted to change voices and their volumes on the fly but you have to stop playback to do this.
The manual says the tempo is in beats per minute but it's not. RhythmBox's 120 bpm is actually about 89 bpm. Tut! Tut! Finally, there are no MIDI or sync facilities so you can't sync lines from another sequencer to the rhythms. But then, at the price perhaps that is expecting too much although some sort of compatibility with EMR's' Studio 24 Plus might have been useful.
Rhythm Box is easy to use and I had great fun playing with it. The synth samples supplied lend themselves to the creation of funky, disco beats. You don't really have to be a musician to use it either as you can try out a sample and a pitch before entering it on the grid.
If you want to experiment with sampled sounds in a simple but musically creative way, RhythmBox is certainly worth a look.
Price: £29.95 inc VAT.
Supplier: Electro Music Research Ltd, (Contact Details)
Review by Ian Waugh
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